Top marketable Sox, Cubs at winter meetings

2011-12-04T18:30:00Z Top marketable Sox, Cubs at winter meetingsBy George Castle on the White Sox, Cubs nwitimes.com
December 04, 2011 6:30 pm  • 

The Sox and Cubs could try trading with each other, but...

The action isn't horribly forbidden, like the Cubs trading with the St. Louis Cardinals.

The teams' fans positively abhor each other, yet the Cubs and White Sox front offices always have been chummy in both inter-baseball camaraderie and conducting flesh-peddling. They've been trading partners an average of once a decade, with seemingly few worries of a move backfiring on the team triggering the deal.

Remember, Ron Schueler had no qualms about dealing Sammy Sosa to the Cubs and Larry Himes, the GM Schueler replaced on the South Side. Schueler had a decade of job security ahead of him despite Sosa's emergence, with some apparent artificial enhancements, as a long-term slugging star while George Bell was the shortest of short-term fixes.

So here are Kenny Williams' present-day Sox, determined to gauge the value of pitchers John Danks and Gavin Floyd at the winter meetings in Dallas, which began Sunday night. Even with the probable defection of icon Mark Buehrle via free agency, Williams believes he can spare another starter, even two, to try to get value back in both quality and quantity. He's also got young lefty Chris Sale preparing as a starter in the off-season.

Then there are the Cubs, desperate for starters, with the financial ability to grant the upside-strong southpaw Danks a handsome long-term contract. All they have to do is trade for him, but...

...Williams wants inexpensive but big league-ready young talent, plural. The Cubs need to build up that commodity, with precious little to spare unless they want to trade a building-block like Starlin Castro. The  teams don't seem to have a match. Too bad. It would further rev up an off-season sparked by the shocking appointment of Robin Ventura as Sox manager and the arrival of front-office messiah Theo Epstein and his disciples at Wrigley Field.

Both the Cubs and Sox likely will stay away from pricey free agents, so they'll likely be competing for hole-pluggers and rebuilding-blocks this week in Dallas.

Williams, mandated to reduce payroll and expand the young talent base, will be in the strange position of dismantling a Sox strength. The team has depth in both the rotation and bullpen, but that quality must yield to financial pressures.

Life without Buehrle and Danks and/or Floyd was emphasized by Sale's confirmation the other day he's conditioning himself for the rotation at pitching coach Don Cooper's behest.

"I'm doing light throwing with (focus on) release point and arm slot," he said from a baseball clinic in Florida. "I'm shooting for 200 innings (next) year. I expect that out of myself.

"I want to be in the best shape coming in. It is a big jump for me coming out of the ‘pen. Now it's expected of me to go at least six innings. I can't wait for it."

Sale might be safer staying in the bullpen, where he could develop into one of the game's better relief southpaws and lessen the chance of arm trouble without those pitches piling up. But the game is a business, money is limited and a left-handed arm capable of 99 mph production often is perceived as a waste in relief.

The Sox have to get younger and more athletic. Just more talent, period, which is exactly where the Cubs are. Good thing Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer are willing to take a temporary loss to make a long-term gain, although they won't put it exactly that way. Cubs fans, disgusted over mismanagement and drift, appear more confident with a definite plan in place.

He has first- and third-base jobs to fill. But the other mandate for Epstein, given the power of the purse by owner Tom Ricketts, should be finding happier homes for Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Zambrano. Epstein's challenge is gauging which contenders will take the pair off his hands with the Cubs paying part of their salaries. Epstein put it best: the Soriano and Zambrano deals are "sunk costs." The Cubs are stuck with the bad contracts anyway, so any minute salary relief will be welcome.

No dramatics appear to be in the offing for the Cubs and Sox in Dallas. Just incremental, organization-stocking moves, necessary first steps to improve by the mid-2010s.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at DGemsNet@aol.com.

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